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NHL

New Disappointments, Same Old Oilers

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - MAY 23: Connor McDavid #97 and Jesse Puljujarvi #13 of the Edmonton Oilers react after the Jets tied up Game Three of the First Round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Winnipeg Jets on May 23, 2021 at Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Jason Halstead/Getty Images)
Jason Halstead/Getty Images

There is only one way for the Edmonton Oilers to save their sorry asses at this point, and that is to sign Simone Biles and put her on the second line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zack Kassian. On a team with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, the Oil still seem a super-de-duperstar short of avoiding yet another hideous end to yet another season that seemed to offer … well, not this again, anyway.

The Fossil Fuels are now down three games to golf to the hilariously underhistoried Winnipeg Jets, with the worst defeat of all coming Sunday night. Having owned the weirdos from the ‘Peg for two and a half periods and building a insurmountable 4-1 lead, they proceeded to let the Jets surmount it in three minutes and three seconds, and lost it entirely nine minutes into overtime. As tracheotomies go, this one was done with a can opener and a bottle of supermarket-brand gin.

The game caused all of Canada to vent their collective psychoses, with nearly everyone with an interest proclaiming that McDavid (a) deserves better than to get swept in the first round by a team with its own hideous postseason history, (b) is now inconsolably pissed, and (c) needs to get a new team, stat. Depending on your primary language, that will be either Toronto or Montreal. The Oilers, so the theory goes, are wasting the young’un’s peak years by doing stuff like this.

There is an alternative explanation, though, and that is that there are also Oilers fans who want to know why McDavid isn’t dragging his straggling teammates by their eyelids to glory. This is the often-debunked theory that the best player needs to be able to carry the entire tonnage of the franchise on command or he is some sort of monstrous fraud.

This is, of course, stupid, and therefore par for the course for all fan bases. But the Jets’ salute-to-inertia pedigree (two series wins and one brief conference finals appearance in 21 years, if you count the Atlanta years) makes this seem like a particularly horrendous result. Had we not already shot our bolt with Senators Week, the Jets would have been a perfectly worthy replacement.

The Oilers, on the other hand, have the game’s most promotable player in McDavid and perfect foil in Draisaitl, but nowhere to showcase him because Oil be Oilin’. They lost Game 1 despite scoring the first goal because they could not contain juggernauts like Tucker Poolman and Dominic Toninato, lost Game 2 because they couldn’t solve goalie Connor Hellebuyck, and vomited all over Game 3 even though they shut down the Poolnato dynamic duo and solved the hell out of Hellebuyck.

Edmonton’s was a collapse of epic proportions, the kind that by rights should shatter any team’s resolve, especially given that they play again tonight before the menacing white chairs of the Jets’ barn. This being hockey, that’s probably not the way to bet, but Gary Bettman, who has already lost Alexander Ovechkin to the Boston Bruins, is probably not prepped for selling the remainder of the Cup on the basis of Nathan McKinnon, Marc-Andre Fleury and the ridiculous last half-century of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The league (and definitely NBC, which is losing the contract, and ESPN, which is gaining it) needed Connor McDavid to last awhile. “Awhile” in their minds meant more than 13 overtime minutes over the minimum number of minutes.

And stars are what the American networks have sold forever, much more than mere teams. To find out that the league’s logical inheritor to 33-year-old Sidney Crosby might be 34-year-old Sidney Crosby would be quite the knee to the head.

Thus, tonight’s game may spark a national debate in Canada about Connor McDavid and what he deserves as the game’s pre-eminent player. The answer would again seem to be nothing at all, but if I were general manager Ken Holland, I’d give that Biles lady a call. Anyone who can pull off a first-time move that so scares her sport that they don’t know how to score it properly could probably give the Oilers 20 minutes a night and a play on the first power-play unit. If nothing else, her explanation for why she plans to keep using the move despite the low scores she got—”Because I can”—is all the attitude any hockey team could possibly need. At least it’s a sight better than the Oilers’ motto of “No We Can’t.”